Firstly, I must say and huge thank you to Awais Khan for taking the time to answer my questions.
I’d like to start by asking, have you always wanted to be a writer? And where did the idea of No Honour come from?
Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Jude! It is a huge honour. To answer your question, no, I never thought I would be a writer. I was always an avid reader, of course, but it wasn’t until I went to Canada for my bachelor’s degree that I realized that publishing was actually an industry. That got me interested in writing, but it wasn’t until I was 25 that I was able to write my first novel. No Honour actually began as a short story that I’d written for a magazine. My agent, Annette Crossland, took one look at it and told me that it was too important a topic to not be expanded into a novel. I wasn’t very sure, but thanks to her encouragement, I decided to attempt it. I had to do a lot of research because I wasn’t very familiar with life in our rural areas. I had to visit the rural areas in southern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to see what life was really like and what I saw thoroughly depressed me. That was when I knew that I had to write this book.
How much research did you have to do for No Honour, and did you encounter hate in writing this book, as it’s a controversial subject?
I think there will always be some degree of hate for an author, but it’s the love from readers and supporters like yourself that more than makes up for it. I understand the criticism and I take it in my stride and use it to improve my craft, but I don’t understand blind hate, especially when people disregard my struggle and assume that I got here on pure luck. No, what you see today is the culmination of decades worth of struggle and I’ve only barely scratched the surface.
Abida’s Father is such a strong progressive character, did you base him on anyone?
Jamil was entirely fictional. However, I was aware that the evil father was a consistent stereotype in Pakistani television and fiction and I wanted to break away from that. Also, I wanted to show how much of an impact proper nurturing can make. Jamil was raised by a progressive woman who did not take any nonsense, and that enabled him to defy social convention
Who would you like to see playing the parts of Abida and Jamil, if No Honour is turned into a Movie?
Ah, that is a tough one. I think Abida could be played well by either Alia Bhatt or Sajal Ali whereas Jamil could be played well by Shaan from Pakistan or Sanjay Dutt from India.
As a child growing up, were you an avid reader? Do you have a favourite childhood book?
I was a very avid reader. As a matter of fact, when my parents would take me to a departmental store, I’d make a beeline for the books section ignoring the toy section entirely. I grew up reading The Secret Seven and Famous Five. I loved those books so much! Later, Harry Potter came.
What is your favourite book you’ve read this year and why?.
Ah, this is again a very difficult question. There can never be a single favourite book haha! Some books that I really enjoyed this year and would classify as my favourites are:
Better Confess by Alan Gorevan (He writes kickass thrillers with a generous dose of humour. Believe me, this book is worth all the hype it is getting and more!)
She’s Mine by A.A. Chaudhuri (This is Chaudhuri’s first foray into psychological thrillers and what an accomplishment it is. I was engrossed!)
Everything Happens for a Reason by Katie Allen (This one will break your heart, but then mend it all over again. I inhaled this book!)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Nobody can do horror and thrillers quite like Shirley Jackson)
Do you have a favourite author or favourite book of all time?
Again, there can’t be a single favourite author 😉 My favourite authors would be Faiqa Mansab, A.A. Chaudhuri, Alan Gorevan, Donna Tartt, Eve Smith… the list is endless. Favourite book of all time… well, that would be Harry Potter!
What were the challenges you faced growing up in Pakistan? And did you have a role model?
Pakistan is not the best place for a creative person. You are forced to quell your passion every step of the way. Luckily, I have supportive parents, but many people don’t. However, even with parents who have supported me, society has questioned my every career decision and regarded it with scorn. It is not easy to endure all of this. Even though I was working on other things apart from writing, I would always be asked when my book would be out and how much money I was going to make or am making. Is that something you would ask a person who works in a bank or in an office? No, you wouldn’t, so why is it okay to ask writers how much they earn? I think my role model is my father. I have always looked up to him, but sadly, I have never managed to be like him. I am literally the opposite! I think my role model is my father. I have always looked up to him, but sadly, I have never managed to be like him. I am literally the opposite!
If you could go back in time, to one historical event, to witness it, what would it be and why?
I’m not sure. History is full of so many horrors that I’m not sure I would ever like to go in the past at all. However, I suppose it would have been nice to be able to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall (9/11/1989) and see people finally getting their much-deserved freedom. I mean, I was alive at that time, but too young to remember.
You can pick 4 famous people, dead or alive, for a dinner party, who would you pick and why?
- My paternal grandmother. She may not have been famous, but she was very special to me. I would give anything to see her again, even for a moment. I miss her terribly.
- J.K. Rowling, only to beg her to write another Harry Potter book or maybe a prequel featuring Dumbledore.
- Noor Jahan. She was such an accomplished singer. I’d love to listen to her sing live.
- And you, Jude. Wouldn’t you like to join me for this fabulous dinner party and you are definitely famous enough to do so
When you’re writing do like silence or do you listen to music?
I don’t really have a preference. Whenever I am in London, I love to write in cafes. My favourite haunt is the Starbucks in Brunswick Centre near Russell Square Station. I can write in the silence of my study just as well.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Someone told me once to think of my biggest possible aspiration and imagine that it has come true. I was told to hold on to that feeling and believe in it, and that if I do, it will come true. In many cases, that has happened.
What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever received?
The gift of friends. I’ve always had very few close friends. In school, I was the weird kid who loved books and hated sports. College was a huge culture shock for me and I just didn’t get to enjoy it the way I should have. I think I bloomed properly in my 30s. I now have some amazing close friends and life is good!
Are you currently writing another book?
I am, indeed. I am writing another book for Orenda. This one is set between Lahore and London and explores the immigrant experience to a great extent. I think it will resonate a lot with South Asian ex-pats living in the UK.
Thank you once again, Awais for your brilliant answers, it’s great to get to know you better!
Awais Khan is a writer and consultant based in Lahore. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario and the University of Durham, he has studied Creative Writing at the prestigious Faber Academy in London. His work has appeared in the Aleph Review, The Hindu, Missing Slate Magazine (he was also their Author of the Month), Daily Times, MODE, The News International etc. He teaches creative writing through the Writing Institute in Pakistan and has a large student base both in Pakistan and abroad. He has conducted lectures on creative writing at Durham University, American University of Dubai, Canadian University of Dubai, United States Educational Foundation of Pakistan, Kinnaird College, Hajvery University etc.
Awais has also been featured in various magazines, TV and Radio channels. His interviews have appeared in the Khaleej Times, HELLO! Pakistan and Shots Blog UK to name a few and his TV and Radio interviews have appeared on Voice of America, Dubai Eye, Samaa TV, Cambridge Radio, Luton Radio, Uxbridge Radio, Indus TV, PTV Home and City42. He has had events at Foyles Charing Cross, Waterstones Cambridge, Waterstones Durham, Hillingdon Libraries, Dubai Literary Salon and Dolcino Loughborough.
His first novel, IN THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS, was published by The Book Guild in July 2019, by Simon & Schuster India in December 2019 and by Liberty Publishing Pakistan in April 2020 to much critical acclaim. Stunning reviews have appeared in Khaleej Times, Hello!, Free Press Journal, Dawn, The News International, Daily Times, Outlook Magazine, Newsline, Daily Telegraph (India), Pakistan Today and the novel has been hailed by bestselling authors and journalists including Faiqa Mansab, Soniah Kamal, Anita Chaudhuri, Miranda Husain, A.A. Chaudhuri and many more.
Audio rights for IN THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS have been acquired by Isis Audio for publication in 2021. Awais next book will be published in 2022, by Orenda.
You can buy In The Company of Strangers HERE
You can buy No Honour HERE